Crime and the Media Essay

To what extent is the media’s portrayal of crime balanced and accurate? The essay will consider how accurately the media portrays crime, this will entail what types of crime stories they report on, whether or not those stories are biased, the impact they have on the public’s perception of crime and the actual reality of crime in Australia. When we talk about the media we are not just referring to one specific example of media, but many different types.

The most common forms of media people talk about today are the newspapers; a form of print media, television and the internet; a visual form of electronic media, and the radio; a verbal form of electronic media. There are other, minor forms of media including magazines, local newsletters and blogs but there isn’t much attention given to them. In every media outlet there are journalists and reporters who gather the information to be presented and then present it in the various different ways.

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Then behind them you have the powerful moguls (David Baker, 2010; CRJ1001 unit book p. 59) who control the media, although to get information on world issues, Australia generally relies on other sources like the American and UK media outlets. Depending on the media outlet, different crime related stories will be reported on. For example, a television or newspaper article will generally only choose a story that they have visual images for, whereas the radio stations do not use visuals and so can report on more stories.

Generally though, all forms of media report on the same types of crime stories, the ones which have a certain amount of controversy, excitement or are just horrifying so as to get the public interested or intrigued enough to listen, buy or watch it. This generates the majority of the media’s revenue and, in my opinion, most parts of the media are just in it for the money. The majority of stories reported in the media, about crime, have something to do with violence or aggressiveness. Eg. Murder, assault and rape.

However, corporate, white collar and political crime is largely neglected or put into a tiny insignificant part of a report because it does not sell as well. From that you could draw the conclusion that television and newspapers are somewhat biased in their approach to reporting crime and the types of crime they report. That being said, there are some restraints put upon some parts of the media which restrict what they can and cannot report on. Over the years criminologists have been able to determine that reporters and journalists work to three kinds of restraints; Technical, Practical and Ideological. Chan 1987; Grabosky & Wilson 1989; Ward 1995; Israel 1998; Brown 2003; Jawkes 2004; Crime and Justice: A Guide to Criminology, 3. 10) when a journalist or reporter is putting together a story they have to meet the needs of the media outlet they are working for. For example, a television news program will want a visual image to go with what they are saying, but this cannot always be done so they may choose not to report that particular story in detail and might add it as a small one minute story, if it is important enough, otherwise they will probably just leave it out all together.

A story also has to be relatively easy to understand, generally in terms of “goodies and baddies”. (David Baker, 2010; CRJ1001 unit book p. 60) Television shows are less likely to report on a complex story that may be difficult to understand for the majority of the public because people would lose interest in it and turn to another channel. Due to the recent Global Financial Crisis most media outlets have had to reduce the number of reporters and investigative journalists they can hire to do ‘all the dirty work’ of digging around for useful information.

This means that they have to rely more on media releases put out by the police and other influential bodies such as parliament and the courts and that they are somewhat limited in what they can report on. It would take too many of their valuable resources to follow along with a long and intricate story of major fraud or corruption case than it would to follow along with a bashing in the streets of Melbourne. Increasingly over the years the media have been adding a certain amount of entertaining properties to their news broadcasts and stories coined by the term ‘Infotainment’.

By making news entertaining they will get more followers which will generate more revenue and so this is just a money making scheme which brings about some ethical questions about the exploitation of crime for entertainment and profit. (Gerry Bloustien & Mark Israel 2006; Crime and Justice: A Guide to Criminology, 3. 30) Stories related to crime sell well, no matter what medium they come through, whether it be books or a newspaper article because, in my opinion, there is something interesting, intriguing and exciting about people going against the law and we want to know what happens to them.

Television has become all about the ratings so they make a big hype about the stories they will be covering in future broadcasts in the hope that they will get people wanting to watch them. Obviously, because there is not going to be a major crime related story to report on every day, shows like A Current Affair try and expose people and businesses by using hidden equipment in their clothing. One such story on the 6th of April this year is a prime example of this.

The story was on a car suspension company called Pedders and they revealed that this company had been scamming thousands of dollars from people going in for their $14 dollar suspension check and telling them they needed to replace major car parts. It turns out however that this story was not in its entirety, true. Many people on public forums have said that they have used Pedders and nothing like this has happened. When the media do stories like this just to make news because there is nothing worth reporting on and they want money it becomes biased and we may not get the whole story, just the side they want us to see.

People’s perception of crime varies widely, some people believe that we are being inundated and overrun by crime in Australia, Melbourne in particular, whereas other believe that it really is not that bad and there are places in the world that are far worse off than us, El Salvador in South America for one. The amount of actual crime cannot be different no matter which point of view you have so why is there so much difference in our perceptions of crime? It has to do with the way in which the media report on crime and the way they portray it in their stories.

Without access to accurate crime statistics most people will just take what the media says about the subject as the truth because they have little or no knowledge on the topic and the media seems like it does. The media is always reporting on crime and the victims of crime so the people, who watch, listen or read the different mediums may get the idea that Australia is vastly becoming a country where there is crime around every corner and you cannot trust anybody you do not know.

It is very unlikely that you will open up a newspaper these days without ever seeing a story about somebody committing a crime. Because of the excessive media coverage of crime and the way in which they cover it -to make it seem far more dramatic and exciting- they are increasing the fear of crime the public have. This fear of crime which has stemmed from the media attention it receives has been studied and some interesting conclusions have been drawn from these studies.

The amount of concern or fear people show is related to where they live; high or low crime region, who you are; young old, male female (Chilvers 1999) and that the majority of people are more fearful of situations that may arise outside of the home than in the home (Hale 1996). All are valid conclusions but the last one is intriguing. Although you would think that this can be explained easily by saying people’s homes are places where they believe they are safe and secure from crime and its effects.

This statement is in all intents and purposes valid, however there may be more to it than that. Due to privacy laws, the media does not have access to people’s homes and so can rarely report on crimes in the home. Everyone knows that crimes do occur within people’s homes but the media cannot report extensively on these crimes. Because of this we do not get the perception that crime in the home is a major problem when compared to crime in the streets. We tend to think that what happens to the poor victims of crime in the home is awful but it will never happen to us.

When the media begins to report on these issues of fear it does not help to stop it, in fact it usually has the reverse effect and the fear of crime begins to snowball and become worse until eventually you get what is called a ‘Moral Panic’. Moral panics have been described as a condition, episode, person or group of persons which emerge to become defined as a threat to societal values and interests (Cohen, 1972). One of the most recent moral panics would be the situation described by the media/politicians as the ‘war on terror’.

After the horrific events of September 11 2001 and the numerous other terrorist attacks in various parts of the world, the media has inflamed the fear the public have towards things like that happening to us. Security at major sporting events such as the Australian open has been increased so much that it sometimes can take hours to get into an arena. This, I believe, was the result of all the media attention given to terrorist attacks. The reality of crime is a whole different ball game, and from the statistics it is clear that the media has given us the wrong erceptions of what is going on in Australia. Seeing as the majority of people are more scared of crime happening outside the home let’s have a look at that statistic. According to the Victorian Police crime statistics for 2008/2009 70% of all rapes recorded were reported as having happened in the home, 13,195 assaults were reported from the home, 67% of all burglaries happened inside the home and on the whole, 32. 9% of all crimes reported, happened inside the residential area. In my opinion if we use only the media as a resource then we will get a completely different set of results.

In conclusion, because the media have restraints placed on them which restricts what crime they can report on. The fact that they have to neglect some major facets of crime, and do not have the resources necessary to give us the full story does lead to bias. If they make news just to make money and not to inform the public and they are giving us, a vastly different perception of crime to what the reality is that they are biased and cannot give an accurate and balanced portrayal of crime in our world today.

Bibliography: 1. (Chan 1987; Grabosky & Wilson 1989; Ward 1995; Israel 1998; Brown 2003; Jawkes 2004; Crime and Justice: A Guide to Criminology, 3. 10) 2. (Chilvers 1999) 3. (Cohen, 1972) 4. (David Baker, 2010; CRJ1001 unit book) 5. (Gerry Bloustien & Mark Israel 2006; Crime and Justice: A Guide to Criminology, 3. 30) 6. (Hale 1996) 7. Victorian Police Crime Statistics 2008/2009 released on August 9 2009


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